The 4th Trimester Bodies Project is a photo documentary featuring the bodies of women who have recently given birth. Women of all shapes and sizes. It's so beautiful it may bring you to tears.

I have never been brought to tears by a collection of photographs. Strong emotion and deep introspection, yes, but I don't think I've ever actually been moved to tears by photos of strangers.

It's a sight so familiar (women in lingerie), but it's not familiar to see it on women with bellies, thighs, rolls. Stretch marks. Flesh on the arms.

Yesterday, however, I was surprised when my eyes filled with tears while scrolling through the gallery of the 4th Trimester Bodies Project, a "photo documentary created by photographer and mother Ashlee Wells Jackson…[and] dedicated to embracing the beauty inherent in the changes brought to our bodies by motherhood, childbirth and breastfeeding" (source).

There was something so breathtakingly beautiful about seeing the real bodies of real women, holding their babies and toddlers, clad only in a bra and underwear. It's a sight so familiar (women in lingerie), but it's not familiar to see it on women with bellies, thighs, rolls. Stretch marks. Flesh on the arms.

I needed this

I suppose it speaks to a very deep part of me, a woman who had her first baby at 22. I was thin when I got pregnant, though I gained 70 pounds with that pregnancy. Some of it was, "Oh wow I'm pregnant, let's eat!" Some of it was water weight from preeclampsia. Whatever it was, I'll never forget standing in front of the mirror a couple of weeks after having my daughter, devastated, crying as I gazed at my "ruined" body.

Though I lost 60 of those pounds within seven or eight months (hello, young person metabolism), I never fully lost my belly. There was always this little pouch, and I think I kind of hated it.

There were stretch marks. I hated those too.

My breasts were saggy too. I nursed my girl for two years, but I kind of hated the way they would never be "perky" again.

I had a fourth trimester body, and I thought I was hideous.

I thought it was hideous

Twelve years and two more children later, I've struggled with weight for years, partly my own decision making, partly health related. Sometimes I enter the "healthy" range; sometimes the BMI chart tags me as "obese." I'm currently about 30 pounds overweight, but I still have a fourth trimester body. My youngest is 3, but my belly remains. My breasts, the same. I think I have more stretch marks now, having carried two more babies.

Something in me needed to see those women, real women.

Something in me needed to see how beautiful those women are, truly, with all their "imperfections."

We all know women who have babies and bounce back in weeks to their pre-pregnancy size and shape, ah, but not all of us are those women. Maybe we lack the genetics. Maybe we lack the self-discipline. I guess we lack whatever it takes to regain the flat belly, perky boobs and tight bottom.

Or, we never had it in the first place.

There's no need to tell us, "We're not good enough." We see it every day in magazines, billboards, movies and advertisements.

Stop Censoring Motherhood-4th Trimester Bodies Project

There's no need to tell us we are the lesser woman, the less good woman. The one who should eat better, work out.

We already know.

In a world telling imperfect women like me that we are the unattractive, lesser version of "mother," the 4th Trimester Bodies Project put me in a bra and underwear and allowed me to be beautiful, alongside the flat bellies and thinner women.

Thank you for including me, for bringing back my humanity and reminding me "beauty" in the media is a shallow, one-sided construction.

Real beauty is a lot more complicated, with its million curves and textures and shapes. We are all but one of those shapes, though equal in our magnificence.

Don't believe me? Look again.

More on body image

Teen body image, courtesy of Mom's issues
Victoria's (not so) Secret attack on our daughters
I judged a plus-sized H&M model. Thanks, Abercrombie & Fitch

Photo credit: Ashlee Wells Jackson